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Regional first round brings 15 shutouts, eight one- run games, six mercy-rule endings, and many surprises

Host Arizona State and Arizona both had tough goes before disposing of New Mexico State and St. Francis

By Arnie Leshin 
Arnie Leshin

It was an interesting first day as the annual Women’s NCAA Softball Tournament threw its first pitch Friday.

That is when the 64-school field played nationwide, although No. 1 seed Oregon began instead on Thursday and had no problem shutting down fourth seed Albany, 4-0, and second seed Drake, 5-0. Today, It’s the Ducks (49-7) against Drake (45-11) and it will be a tough task for Drake having to win twice over the host school.

In all, there were 15 shutouts, eight one-run games, one that went six innings when the 8-run mercy-rule applied, and five went only five via the mercy-rule. Albany is the first team that went 0-2 and ended its stay in the tournament, but it will have plenty of company after today’s elimination round.

Surprises? There were many as parody made the scene on opening day.

Perhaps the biggest stunners were in Arizona. In Tempe, host Arizona State (44-11) had a tough time before getting past 4th seed New Mexico State, 2-0. In Tucson, it was the Wildcats (41-14) barely getting past 4th seed St. Francis (Pa.) 1-0.

These final scores were not expected, especially against the host schools, but they did, and almost sent the two Arizona schools into the elimination bracket.

Then there was Texas (33-24) edging Minnesota, 2, Northwestern (37-17) going eight innings to get past California, 3-2, Liberty (48-12) blanking Hofstra, 2-0, and in the same bracket, host South Carolina (46-14) didn’t have it easy before disposing of 4th seed University of North CarolinaGreensboro, 3-0.

Then there was James Madison (43-12) nipping Ohio, 2-1, Houston (37-20) shutting down Louisiana-Lafayette, 1-0, host Arkansas (40-15) with a tough time before turning back 4th seed DePaul, 2-0, North Dakota State (34-17) holding off Mississippi State, 5-4, and Cal-State Fullerton (34-23) turning back Texas State, 2-1.

It didn’t end there. McNeese (41-19) snuck up on Baylor and outscored the higher-seed Bears, 11-10, while 3rd ranked UCLA (51-4) had a tough go at home before getting past state rival Sacramento State, 3-0.

Notre Dame (33-21) and Wisconsin were two of the final four school invited, but both proved their worth as the Irish downed Michigan, 4-1, and Wisconsin (29-21) scored six times in the seventh to break a 3-3 tie and down Oregon State, 9-3.

North Dakota State was the team that almost eliminated the Sooners in the Norman Regional last year. But Oklahoma rallied, then made a comeback to get past Tulsa, travel to Auburn and sweep the Tigers in two, and made it to Oklahoma City to defeat Florida twice for its second-straight championship, and a total of four.

UCLA has won the most, 12, and the Bruins, Ducks and Gators are seeded ahead of the 51-3 Sooners, who would also host the Super Regional and, if they again get to Oklahoma City for theWorld Series, they would not have to leave the sooner state. They are second in national titles won.

This is not a minor sport, these are the best softball teams in the land, and all these programs have recruited well and it’s now a major task to get to the 8-school World Series at the Hall of Fame Ballpark.

Until that happens, it’s still “Boomer Sooner” as the defending champion.

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